“Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself-and be lenient to everybody else.”
Henry Ward Beecher
I like the idea of self-discipline. Most of us do. The reality, of course, is less romantic. The reality is often hard and tiresome and it sometimes seems as if there were no end in sight when it comes to reaching our goals. Beverly Sills said, “There is no shortcut to any place worth going.”
Still, I find that when I do practice self-discipline, it takes on a power all of its own. I’ve never been the most self-disciplined guy in the world. I blame no one but myself. In fact, I don’t even blame myself. Part of self-discipline is disciplining the thought life to not wander into regret, shame, fear, or guilt. They may seem like good motivators or like our just desserts, (after all, we must be punished for the things we’ve done wrong), but I find they don’t help to change behavior.
What then does motivate self-discipline and changed behavior? In my own experience, it’s always been a few things:
First, I draw on lessons of the past, not to bring guilt, but to remind myself that my old way of doing things (or more accurately, not doing things) didn’t work. They didn’t get me the results I wanted in grades, money, the respect of others, or self-respect. I’ve often mentioned my undergraduate work and how it was long one of my few regrets that I didn’t apply myself more diligently. I’ve decided to let go of that as emotional baggage, but not as a lesson. What I’d rather do now is just do what I need to do, visualizing the positive results I can get by doing my work.
Another thing that motivates me is being aware that my life situation could be better. I’m not ungrateful for what I have, but I know there are other things I want and I want them very much. If I don’t get them, I will feel like I have failed significantly. My house on the beach is still one of my goals. Despite my decision to further my formal education, I still plan to read and write for a living.
I want better health.
I want more money, enough to take care of my children and grandchildren.
I want to motivate others through what I read.
There are things I want to do, need to do, and, indeed, am called to do. I feel that if I don’t reach my goals, I will not have achieved God’s plan for me.
So I keep working. I keep moving towards my goals. I keep pushing myself because this is what has been chosen for me and this is what I’ve chosen for myself.
Despite the changes in my life, I will not give up on my Muse. I will continue to do as she asks and that’s why I’m here every day. My life is going to get busier. I don’t care. That only strengthens my resolve. That only strengthens my love.
And that is the final thing that brings about change – love – love for God, love for others, and love for self. When I love someone, one person or many, self-discipline comes far more easily. I didn’t do well in school before because I didn’t have enough love –for God, for others, or for myself. Yes, some of this was a lack of maturity, but when I love others enough to do my work, the maturity comes. With love comes maturity. With maturity comes love.
Love is what has enabled me to Get Stated and Keep Going. Love is what got me writing. My decision to return to school was a decision based in love. Every time I study, I am showing God, the world, my Muse, and myself how much love I am capable of giving. That’s what love does. It tells. But it also shows.